The Dismembered Tennesseeans

Last Tuesday, Jan. 19, nationally renowned bluegrass band Fletcher Bright & The Dismembered Tennesseans performed in the Dora MacLellan Brown Memorial Chapel for an expectant crowd as part of Covenant’s John Hamm Performing Arts Series. The show took a turn from the series’ usual classical lineup with foot-stomping fiddle riffs, airy waltzes, banjo breakdowns, and witty side-stage banter.  

Fiddle-player and 65-year band veteran Fletcher Bright joked onstage about his surprise when music professor Dr. David Tahere invited the band to play in the series: “It doesn’t seem fitting for an arts series, but, we’re all you got!”

Despite Bright’s unassuming commentary on the band, The Dismembered Tennesseans have played on stage with numerous Bluegrass notables as well as the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra, Boys Choir, and Ballet.  The band has also performed for former president Gerald Ford and three Tennessee governors, among other notable figures.  

The Tennesseans originated with a few McCallie High School students who began to meet for regular bluegrass jam sessions in 1945. Bright and banjo player Ed “Doc” Cullis are the only original members left in the band. Bassist Laura Walker, guitarist Bobby Martin, mandolinist Don Cassel, and dobro-playing, multi-instrumentalist Brian Blaylock have since been initiated into the band.

Like many bluegrass groups, each performer had an opportunity to spotlight his or her talent by swapping vocal roles and instrumental “solos” throughout the cuts.  Choruses typically featured the distinctive, stirring harmonies of the genre.

Unfortunately, due to poor acoustics and screeching microphones, much of their performance at Covenant—particularly the vocals—was muffled and distorted.  However, the show went on. The Tennesseans proceeded to reintroduce bluegrass and old-time classics such as the Foggy Mountain Boys’ “Dim Light, Thick Smoke,” “Rank Stranger,”  and  the “Tennessee Waltz” to an enrapt audience of local residents, faculty members, and students with vigor and home-spun camaraderie.

Walker, one of the newest and perhaps most formidable forces of the band, also serves as the executive director for the Chattanooga Folk School.  During the show, she prompted students interested in private or group lessons for guitar, fiddle, mandolin, old-time/bluegrass banjo, bluegrass banjo, bass, dobro, steel guitar, or voice to contact the school at to foster the next generation of start-up bluegrass bands.